Cooperation could bring extra funds for school district

School District 79 is looking for way to offset some of its costs as funding cuts grow deeper each year.

School District 79 is looking for way to offset some of its costs as funding cuts grow deeper each year.

One of the ways being explored at this time is a partnership with B.C. Transit. In one of the last board meetings of the nine trustees who were recently fired by the province, the board passed a motion to investigate such a partnership, which would see the storage and maintenance of approximately 25 B.C. Transit buses at the school district’s facility on Beverly St. in Duncan, with the possible use of satellite locations at Stanley Gordon Elementary in Lake Cowichan and Frances Kelsey in Cobble Hill.

Former trustee, Duncan Brown, says that the district moves approximately 5,000 people in a matter of hours on school days, and has some 40 odd school busses in operation, with a couple that are set aside for field trips and other uses. He says that the districts capital facility which houses the buses has the capacity to set aside 25 per cent of its space and services to B.C. Transit, if this initiative moves forward.

Monroe Grobe, director of operations for District 79, says that there has only been one meeting so far between the district and B.C. Transit.

“We are still in the discussion stage,” he said. “But we are striving for a partnership with B.C. Transit.”

There are three parts to the proposal, including physical storage, maintenance, and operations.

“Only two pieces are being looked at right now,” said Grobe, pointing to both the storage and maintenance aspects.

“We see this as a potential revenue generator,” he explains and goes on to say that the district thinks it could generate jobs as well, for crews such as mechanical staff.

The district’s contract expires in April of 2013. “So if we do go ahead, we’ll be shooting for that,” says Grobe.

First, a feasibility report must be written up for the newly appointed trustee, Mike McKay, by September of this year, “to work with other timelines and to look at the fine details,” said Grobe.

These details include determining whether the district has the physical capacity to deal with the storage and maintenance of transit buses “which we have pretty much determined,” as well as the adjustments that would have to be made to the working shifts of employees.

“We would have to run alternate shifts to accommodate the later hours that B.C. Transit would require,” said Grobe.

Because transit hours would run past regular school bus hours, the district would have to have mechanical staff, and others, on hand to service transit buses.

Grobe adds that there would also be potential labour issues that would have to be smoothed out with the unions.

“But this is not a major hurdle at this point,” he says.

Grobe could not yet comment on how much this initiative would bring into the district, but he did say that any revenue generated would go directly into the general revenue of the school district.

“It has to be of some benefit or it’s not worth it,” he said. “But by September we have to have a pretty good picture. The district is not typically in the money making business, but this is an opportunity to provide a service to another government service.”

Peter Rantucci, director regional transit system, says that the local B.C. transit system already operates at an efficient cost.

“B.C. Transit is continually looking for new ways to make its services more efficient and/or improve service quality and therefore we believe it is in the best interests of the service that we meet with any party that proposes new initiatives and explore the potential of all initiatives,” says Rantucci.

Unfortunately, this initiative does not mean that B.C. Transit is looking to up service in the Lake Cowichan area, or create more service between Lake Cowichan and Duncan, or Lake Cowichan and Nanaimo.

“Decisions regarding service levels and routes are the responsibility of the Cowichan Valley Regional District who is the local government partner in our transit service agreement,” says Rantucci. “Any decisions regarding service levels and routes would have to come from them.”

At this time, B.C. Transit says it is only looking at whether this plan is feasible for both parties.